Rolling Plains Jail and Residential Center, in Haskell, Texas. Immigrants are jailed in these “detention centers” that dot our country. Source: www.dialoguemakers.org/ HorrorAmidstDemocracy.htm


by Caroline Kim

Caroline Kim Carlos and his father Don Jildardo were inseparable. Don Jildardo was a strong and charismatic man well loved in his community, a soldier and farmer. When he had to travel to other towns for business, Carlos would often accompany him. Carlos loved school and excelled at soccer, basketball and volleyball. Then one day when Carlos was eleven, Don Jildardo suddenly collapsed. Within hours, he was dead. The family never knew the cause.

Over the next few years, the family became very poor. Food became scarce. On some days all there was to eat were four eggs shared between six people. Carlos was the oldest of the children. His father had taught him to look out for his younger brothers and sisters. Although Carlos was an outstanding student he could no longer afford the school fees. It became clear to him that he needed to work full time in order to support his family. But as much as Carlos searched for work, there was nothing to be found. So one day, at age 17, Carlos did the only thing he could in order to feed and protect his family. He left his home in Chiapas, Mexico and went north to the US.

Carlos worked hard at various difficult jobs. For five months Carlos worked at an asbestos removal company in North Carolina. He and his friends wore masks, but the masks didn't keep all of the dust out. Two of them developed lung disease and died within months of leaving work.

Carlos is now a cheerful and handsome 23-year-old who lives in Fulton. He is deeply spiritual and has a strong faith in God. He works full time at a nursery, loading bags of mulch and manure for customers.

From Worker to "Illegal Human Being"
One Saturday afternoon this past July, Carlos and two of his friends, Hediberto and Virginio decided to walk to a church festival five blocks away. While walking back, they were drinking sodas and discussing what they would make for dinner. Just two blocks from home, a Border Patrol vehicle pulled up behind them. Before any of the men could collect their thoughts, the agent was asking them where they were from and if they had any ID. Unsure of their rights, the three men answered honestly: "Guatemala." and "Mexico." They were ordered into the vehicle.

Carlos and his friends were arrested and imprisoned in the Onondaga County Justice Center in Syracuse on $5,000 bail until space could be found for them in the Federal Detention Center in Batavia, NY, where they were to be held until they were deported. Within three days, all three of the men were separated on different floors of the jail. They had no way of communicating with each other. Carlos wasn't even sure whether his friends were still there. On the 11th day, Carlos was called out of his cell and brought downstairs. He saw his friend Virginio for the first time in days. They were given their shoes and told to put them on. They were handcuffed, their feet were chained and a chain was wrapped around their waists. They were made to get into a van with tinted windows, metal benches and no air conditioning. All the way to Batavia the hot July sun beat down on the closed van. The men finally arrived in Batavia. They both knew it was the last stop before deportation. When they entered the detention center, Carlos was separated from the other men. He was placed in a room by himself where he waited for hours with no explanation. Finally, a guard told him in English that he would be released. He had been bailed out. He and another prisoner, Esteban, were placed in the van again, but this time without chains. They were driven to the edge of the property and allowed to exit the van. Carlos' friends and Esteban's family were waiting on the brittle sun-scorched grass to pick them up.

Our Fellow Workers, Our Fellow Neighbors
I am a member of the Detention Task Force in Syracuse, NY. Carlos is a dear friend of mine. The Detention Task Force at the Workers' Rights Center was created in order to help people like Carlos. We were successful in bailing him out. Since July, we have helped bail out seven people; six men and one woman. The only crime these workers are guilty of is seeking work in the US in order to help feed their families. The bail fund is really a community effort. The generosity and loyalty that the workers have shown in helping each other is deeply impressive and moving. They have given thousands of dollars, obtained at great sacrifice from their meager savings, or borrowed from other workers in order to free their friends.

In case you were wondering about Carlos' two friends: Hediberto was released on bail. Virginio was not so lucky. There was not enough money at the time to pay the $5,000 for Virginio. I spoke to his sister on the phone. She was crying as she explained that she was trying to get money together but she didn't have enough from her job picking onions to pay her brother's bond. Virginio was a recent arrival in the US and I never got to meet him but I have dreamed about him. In my dream I am asking him for forgiveness.
Photo taken by immigration rights activist, poet and educator, Francisco Dominguez. His work focuses on the plight of undocumented workers. Source: www.kdvs.org/shows/past/show_id/106/

Meanwhile, there is rampant racial profiling by the police and by Border Patrol. I do not use the word "rampant" lightly. Hispanic men are being targeted as they walk down the street, like Carlos and his friends, or on their way to doctors' appointments, traveling on public transportation, or on trips to the grocery store. They are afraid to sit outside on their front porches, go to church or wash clothes at the laundromat.

Terrorizing the "Other"
One friend, whom I'll call Pablo, described traveling on a Greyhound bus a few weeks ago. In Rochester, Border Patrol agents boarded the bus. According to Pablo, the agents asked all of the Hispanics, Asians and people of Middle Eastern ethnicity for their paperwork or ID.

This abuse of power by some of the police and by Border Patrol terrorizes workers, and places them in real danger. Three friends of mine were driving down a country road headed to work on a rainy morning in July when their vehicle slipped off the road and flipped over onto the grass. The three men crawled through the broken windows. The driver, who already had a case with Immigration, stayed with the vehicle. The two passengers, despite being injured and disoriented, immediately started to run. When I picked them up they were bleeding, soaking wet, and scratched from brambles from running and hiding in the woods.

Less then two weeks later, another friend, whom I will call Juan, was the passenger in a very minor accident caused by the driver of another vehicle. The driver of Juan's vehicle stayed at the scene of the accident to talk to the police. Juan knew he needed to get as far from the scene as possible,
WHAT YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW

1. Contact your local and state government and demand an end to racial profiling by the police and by Border Patrol and express your support for humane immigration reform.

2. Join the Detention Task Force. We meet at the Workers' Rights Center every Friday at 9 am. Please Call Pat Rector at the Worker's Rights Center for more information at (315) 474-4821.

3. Donate to the Detention Task Force at the Workers' Rights Center. Send a check to Pat Rector, Michael Lax or Caroline Kim at the Workers' Rights Center, 232 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, NY 13202. Every single penny goes to bailing out workers like Carlos and the other men mentioned above. I can't express how important any contribution is, no matter how small. To bail out one worker is often the combined effort of dozens of people. Knowing that others care gives all of us strength.

so he started to walk away. Due to a previous injury, Juan was unable to move very fast. Sure enough, the police picked him up, brought him back to the scene of the accident and called Border Patrol.

During the same week, two other friends, who had both been severely burned in a propane explosion two years ago, were headed to a doctor's appointment in a properly registered vehicle. The driver had a valid license. They were pulled over by state police at the toll booth on route 90 in Syracuse. The passenger had burns over 60% of his body from the explosion and was still suffering from painful heavy scarring. When he explained that he was headed to a doctor's appointment because he was recovering from burns, the state police ordered him to remove his shirt so that they could see the scarring on his back, chest and arms. Then they called Border Patrol.

These shameful civil rights violations are not from some movie, and are not transpiring in some far away place. They are happening here in Central New York, in our community, and to our neighbors. These heartless acts are occurring because of laws that label human beings as "illegal." Individually, and as a society, we need to question the legitimacy and morality of laws that encourage the inhumane and racist persecution of our friends and neighbors.



Caroline Kim, a member of the Detention Task Force, was recently honored by Peace Action of Central New York.